M. E. O’Brien and Eman Abdelhadi’s Everything For Everyone

Andreas Petrossiants

A sign to mark the first anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, September 17, 2012. It is resting against the foot of Mark di Suvero’s public sculpture Joie de Vivre (1998) in Zuccotti Park, New York. © Victoria Pickering / Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0.

September 30, 2022
Common Notions

In her Manifesto for Maintenance art, 1969!, Mierle Laderman Ukeles asked: “after the revolution, who’s going to pick up the garbage on Monday morning?”1 If sectarian communism and reformist socialism do not challenge the classical Marxist separation between productive and reproductive labor, then what else could revolution lead to but a perpetuation of the same hierarchies by different names? Lizzie Borden’s documentary-styled film Born in Flames (1983) provided one answer to Ukeles’s question: after the United States’ transition to state socialism, violence against women, unremunerated labor, and homophobia remain rife, even amongst “comrades.”

M. E. O’Brien and Eman Abdelhadi’s speculative fiction offers another. It imagines a future in which rebellions have brought about post-capitalist worlds: commodities and the state have not only been abolished, but forgotten. The authors—performing versions of themselves five decades from now, and two decades after the insurrection reached New York—interview twelve different characters for the “New York Commune Oral History Project.” Beginning with an introduction from the future that doubles as a primer on communization theory, it’s an impeccable act of world-building. Intimate, at times confrontational, dialogues address the localized but globally oriented insurrections that brought down capitalist, white supremacist states throughout the world. The interviewees discuss the effects of climate catastrophe and mass species extinction, the liberation of Palestine, the communization of space, as well as personal stories of revolt, class war, trauma, healing, and politicization.

In this post-insurrectionary future, communes of various sizes have formed that are more or less premised on the principles of democratic municipalism and social ecology. Through expropriated buildings, urban farms, canteens, and teenager crèches, the participants have re-organized life, production, reproduction, care, travel, and human connection with the planet. At the Cecilia Gentili Social Center in the Bronx, “skinners” (sex workers), many of whom are trans, organize mental health services, food distribution, agricultural production, and much else. In Flushing, Queens, a knowledge center about trauma work is organized by Chinese Americans who were forced into concentration camps in California and then smuggled back to China as disposable factory labor.

O’Brien and Abdelhadi’s documentation of the future evades the trite utopia/dystopia binaries prevalent in much mainstream science fiction. Even in this non-capitalist reality—without wage slavery, overproduction, imperial genocide—the climate is fucked, natural disasters are rife, and organizational disagreements (about food consumption, say) and harm such as child abuse require conflict resolution. This calls for healing, on micro and macro scales. An example of the latter, An Zhou, an environmentalist, talks about the type of geoengineering necessary to revive a drowned and burned world. “It was controversial,” he says of the decision to design and introduce newly created species to increase biodiversity in the territory previously known as Canada. “Like it or not, our job is to mitigate the consequences of the catastrophe of the old world.” Climate refugees are welcomed freely into communes across North America and elsewhere; systems of community self-defense and preservation are in place and organized collectively; accountability functions to protect victims and mitigate violence.

One throughline is each character’s awareness of the importance of integrating conflict resolution and mutual aid into all forms of organization, because of their own experience of revolt. The authors give a lot of attention to communal responses to trauma and conflict, countering liberal reformist positions that preclude the potential for autonomy by ensuring its impossibility: “If we abolish the police, who will protect me?” The book answers these and other questions—besides picking up trash on Monday morning, who will gestate, who will raise young people, who will teach science and repair the planet, how to create mutual accountability?—through embodied stories rooted in proletarian and antagonistic forms of life.

The characters also tell the stories of their own politicization. Few were part of revolutionary organizations prior to the fall of the capitalist world order. They were students, sex workers, sufferers of substance abuse, ravers, DJs, Indigenous fighters, military veterans: in short, surplus laborers. Kawkab Hassan is a Palestinian born in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn who cannot find a job and instead finds meaning in travelling to the Levant to participate in the Last Intifada. Afterwards, popular armies move on to Lebanon and other areas. “Palestine was the model,” he describes. “We were occupied by Israel. Others were occupied by their ruling classes. People were done with occupation—no matter who was doing it.” This kind of internationalism inflects all the interviews; the further you get into the book the more already referenced struggles reappear as people learn from one another’s tragedies and successes.

There is pain in these accounts, but there is hope as well. The youth in 2072 no longer understand how property, commodities, rent, or police function. This reality, born from decades of violent struggle, crystallizes in credible characters. Yet militant research is not finished, as evidenced by the oral history project itself undertaken by the future O’Brien and Abdelhadi in the form of this book. As another historian, working for the Mid-Atlantic Free Assembly, tells them: “There is a deep link between human subjectivity and the labor process that we’re just beginning to unravel, twenty years after the end of the commodity form.” Through such research and world-building, both material and narrative, new possibilities for collective life present themselves to those of us in 2022, and revolutionary horizons grow.

M. E. O’Brien and Eman Abdelhadi’s Everything For Everyone: An Oral History of the New York Commune, 2052–2072 is published by Common Notions.


Mierle Laderman Ukeles’s Manifesto for Maintenance art, 1969! is available to view online: https://queensmuseum.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Ukeles-Manifesto-for-Maintenance-Art-1969.pdf.

Revolution, Immaterial Labor, Science Fiction

Andreas Petrossiants is a writer and editor living in New York. His writing has appeared in The New Inquiry, Artforum, Bookforum, The Brooklyn Rail, Historical Materialism, Hyperallergic, Momus, ROAR Magazine, and e-flux journal, where he is associate editor.

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